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Affordable, Expressive and Non-Toxic Furniture 


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build, hack, tweak, share, discover. 

Affordable, Expressive and Non- 

Toxic Furniture 

Written By: Christopher Palmer 



1/4" drill bit (1) 

3/16" drill bit (1) 

7/16" wrench (1) 

Adjustable wrench (1) 

Clothes pins (1) 

Eight-quart cooking pot (1) 

Hand drill (1) 

Miter box (1) 

Protractor (1) 

Safety glasses (1) 


Silicone cooking gloves (1) 

Tape measure (1) 

3/16" dowel (1) 

1/4" x 20 hardware (1) 

Corn starch (1) 

Cooking oil (1) 

Vinegar (1) 

Fabric of your choice (1) 

Lumber of your choice (1) 

Wood glue (1) 


Unique, expressive and comfortable furniture can be expensive and economically 
inaccessible to many people. Inspired by the work of Enzo Mari "Autoprogettazione" and 

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Affordable, Expressive and Non-Toxic Furniture 

more recently "Starter Office" by Scott Klinker Product Design, this project outlines a 
process that allows a person to design and construct furniture with affordable materials and 
very few tools. The methods are simple and the process is fun. Many variations can be 
designed and completed, and variations can be interesting and explorative. This design 
project/process is meant to encourage design and manufacture using not only this method 
but also derivatives and variations that suit the individual builders. Keep in mind that this 
project does not require epoxy resin, high-VOC chemicals or expensive materials. 

Besides choosing the form and type of furniture, some of the initial decisions can be choice 
of hardwood (oak, maple, ash, etc.), fabric choice (burlap, crinoline, buckram, cotton muslin) 
and choice of fabric color. The bioplastic used in this project is a corn starch plastic which is 
easily made at home. It is non-toxic, biodegradable and affordable. The square stock 
hardwood lumber can be found at many local lumber yards. 

Chris Palmer completed the MFA 3D Design Program at Cranbrook Academy of Art in May, 
2012. Through the 3D Design Program, Chris has worked with non-toxic, renewable and 
environmentally friendly materials while exploring new and advanced aesthetics for object 
design using these types of materials. 

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Affordable, Expressive and Non-Toxic Furniture 

Step 1 — Affordable, Expressive and Non-Toxic Furniture 


• Safety Disclaimer: The information provided in this guide is only a rough estimate of 
how one could begin and complete a project like this. If there are any safety doubts 
in the manufacture or use of this object the designer/builder should consult an expert in 
that field before attempting these processes. 

• The designer and author assumes no responsibility for injuries, failures or miscalculations 
in the production and/or use of this object. Wear safety glasses when operating hand or 
power tools and use heat-resistant gloves when working with liquids that are hot. 

Step 2 

• The complete process is broken 
into three sections: Lumber and 
frame making, fabric and template 
making, bioplastic recipe and 
cooking. Part of what makes this 
process affordable is that there is 
no need for expensive clamps, 
table saw, sewing machine and 
other tools that many people do not 

• What you will need are many items 
that you may already own which 
are listed in the "tools and parts" 
section of this guide. 

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Affordable, Expressive and Non-Toxic Furniture 

Step 3 — Lumber Selection and Frame-Making Process. 

• Depending on the duty required, to 
make this furniture the lumber you 
choose should be strong enough to 
support your weight. The lounge 
and ottoman featured here use 1 " 
square maple stock. Nothing 
smaller or thinner in hardwood 
should be used, preferably over 1" 
square should be sufficient 
depending on form choices. 

• You may want to design this object 
keeping in mind that many lumber 
yards sell square stock in either 
36" or 48" lengths. 

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Affordable, Expressive and Non-Toxic Furniture 

Step 4 

• Once the lumber type and size 
have been chosen, take your ideas 
to a CAD program or you can draw 
the object at ~ Vi scale for 
modeling and angle template 
making. The program used here 
was a 2D program where only the 
profiles of the Lounge were drawn 
and redrawn in different ways that 
looked interesting, strong and 
within 48" lumber lengths. 

• After the chair form has been 
drawn cardboard templates can be 
made to set the angles for frame 
assembly using a protractor. 
Lumber lengths can be cut using 
miter box and saw. 

Step 5 

• At this time, locate and drill 1/4" holes for all intersection points on the two profiles (sides) 
of the object, a chair in this case. Once holes are drilled, assemble with wood glue, 1/4" x 
20 bolts, washers and nuts. 

• Set the angle of each intersection from the cardboard templates made from the drawing (or 
the drawing itself). Tighten bolt and wipe of excess glue applied to the joint area. 

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Affordable, Expressive and Non-Toxic Furniture 

Step 6 

• Now that the two sides of the object have been assembled, connect with lateral frame 
pieces using the same method; locate and drill, assemble with hardware and wood glue. 
Allow time for glue to dry. The Lounge in this example has dowels installed close to the 
bolt. This will limit torque on the joint area. 

• It is best to wait a day for the glue to dry when you drill the joint for a 3/16" dowel. Drill 
about 45 Q away from the bolt center, cut 3/16" dowels and install with glue. The frame 
being structurally complete, it can be treated with tung oil or another natural wood 

Step 7 — Fabric Selection and Template Process. 

• When selecting fabric for the seating area, try to purchase a fabric that is open-weave 
(burlap, crinoline, buckram, etc). This will make saturation easier using the bioplastic that 
will be applied and the end product will be stronger because of the saturation. 

• Using fabric saturated with corn starch plastic it took about six laminates of this composite 
to make the object structurally reliable. Keep this amount in mind when purchasing fabric. 

• Many of these fabrics come in several colors. Now is the time to choose which color looks 
best with the treated wood. 

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Affordable, Expressive and Non-Toxic Furniture 

Step 8 

• Fabric templates can be cut at this 
time. The final form for this object 
is made by sitting in the fabric 
when it is wet with the plastic. 

• This can be the tricky part when 
cutting templates. In order to cut 
about six templates the builder will 
need to obtain template dimensions 
by lightly placing their figure in the 
fabric that is retained in the frame 
by using thumbtacks. 

• Be very careful; thumb 
tacks are not intended to 
hold your weight with fabric and a 
lot of balance is required to get a 
comfortable and accurate contour. 


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Affordable, Expressive and Non-Toxic Furniture 

Step 9 

• Adjustments can be made from this point. Some questions to consider: Is there enough 
pocketing area for a headrest? Is this too formal? Not formal enough? 

• Make final adjustments to the fabric amount and trim cut fabric with three or four inches of 
overhang from top of wood frame. This three to four inches will be the hem area and hand- 
sculpted area of the fabric which provides the strength and makes a pocket around the 
frame to retain the fabric. 

• Remove this first fabric template from the frame. This will serve as your layout for all other 
fabric pieces except for the final layer. The final layer of fabric should be another inch 
bigger than all of the other pieces; this will allow a final wrapping and hand-sculpted hem 
area which will visually unify the fabric layers. 

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Affordable, Expressive and Non-Toxic Furniture 

Step 10 — The Plastic: Manufacture and Application. 

• Now that at least six fabric layers have been cut, it is time to make your first bioplastic 
mixture. This is a non-toxic plastic made from items that you can buy at the grocery store. 
What you will need are: corn starch, sunflower oil, vinegar and tap water. 

• Normally, glycerine is used instead of sunflower oil. Sunflower oil is employed here 
as it is more affordable. Each piece of fabric needs about V2 gallon of this 

bioplastic. It is a good idea to saturate two fabric pieces in one session, so one gallon at at 
time is a good amount to make. 

• Recipe to make about one gallon of Corn Starch Plastic: 

• Water 12.75 cups; Corn Starch 3.25 cups; Vinegar 1 cup; Sunflower Oil 1 cup 

• In an eight-quart pot, mix corn starch, water, sunflower oil and vinegar. Stir until there are 
no clumps. Turn the stove to full heat and stir the whole time the mixture is being heated. 

• When the mixture reaches a critical temperature, a gel-like and somewhat clear compound 
is made. Remove from heat and wearing silicone heat-resistant gloves put fabric in pot and 
saturate each fabric piece individually. This organic plastic can also be applied with a paint 
roller; a large table is required for this method of application. 

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Affordable, Expressive and Non-Toxic Furniture 

Step 11 

• After the fabric has been thoroughly saturated, place the layers on the chair frame and pin 
the top. Make sure that all edges of the fabric are hanging over the edge of the wood 

• Drape a plastic bag lightly over the fabric and place your physique into the chair. This will 
set the final form of the fabric and after a day another two layers may be applied. 

• During initial layout make sure to sculpt the edges of the wet plastic and fabric around the 
chair frame. This gives a bulbous, hemmed effect that makes the fabric shell stay rigidly 
on the frame. 

• After two layers of the fabric have been applied and the edges have been forced together, 
use clothes pins to retain pressure on the two layers. 

Step 12 

• Repeat this process until you get to the last fabric laminate, which is bigger than all of the 
others. Upon layout of the final laminate, sculpt and fold the edge around all previous 
layers. Allow several days for the bioplastic to dry before your lounge chair is put to use. 

This document was last generated on 2013-01-23 12:43:48 PM. 

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